Timeless Wisdom

This week on “Life Shifting with Dr J” I had the opportunity to meet that rare, special kind of leader, one who truly “walks the talk.” In a world where scandal, duplicity, and political maneuvering seem to define the leadership landscape, it is encouraging–and inspiring–to know that there are leaders out there who have integrity, humanity, humility, and most importantly, wisdom. Dr David Surrenda, CEO of the Kripalu Institute for Yoga and Healing, is one of those leaders. He is a clinical psychologist and a thirty year veteran of the corporate, academic and organizational consulting worlds, and author of multiple books on leadership and self-development, most recently: “Retooling on the Run: Real Change for Leaders with no Time.”

I was honored to have him join me on my show. Click here to listen or download to Itunes/Mp3. Wowed by his clear, concise and simple message about leadership, I am in complete sync with his core principle: it is all about self-mastery. As I write in my book, “Shift: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear,” it is impossible for us to be role models as leaders until we gain a measure of self-awareness — and humbly take up the gauntlet to LEAD OURSELVES.

As David pointed out in our conversation, self-mastery is not about becoming a “super hero,” but rather about becoming adept at stalking ourselves, becoming aware of our faults, our habits, and our fears–not with an ear for self-criticism, but with an eye for seeing how we can put in place practices to become more fully realized as humans.

Key to this journey of self-realization is shortening the “recovery time” from when go off track–get triggered, practice a bad habit, break a commitment, fall victim to fear, etc.

Mastery=Quick Recovery not Perfection

We will never be perfect, nor are we ever “finished” manifesting our full potential. BUT, with a commitment to continuously growing, learning and tracking ourselves, we can surely become more of WHO WE ARE MEANT TO BE.

I dearly hope you will take time to download the interview and hear from David directly. You will love his quick and concise six-step methodology for self-mastery. Here’s a preview synopsis:

KEY STEPS TOWARDS SELF-MASTERY

1. Gain Perspective– take the long view
2. Be a Student–of your self
3. Clarify Your Intent–know where you are headed
4. Map Your Patterns-look for gaps in consistency
5. Course Correct–don’t criticize, simply correct and re-balance
6. Evaluate Progress–shorten the “recovery time”

In a time when the world is crying out for wise leaders, I am heartened to know that people like David Surrenda are out there doing their thing, leading organizations that shape our world. Kripalu is one of the largest holistic health centers in the entire world…and I’m happy to be able to say, it is in good hands.

Thanks David…and to all, Namaste,

Dr J

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Got Mojo?

“Lost,” she stated. Simply. “I feel lost.”

...in a dark wood

Having “mutually” agreed that she should leave her job as a highly-paid management consultant due to the recession and re-structuring at her firm, my client was burning through her severance package…and feeling very unsure of what to do next.

Another client, that same day, also recently “dismissed” — through no fault of his own– from his accounting job at a Wall Street firm, joked casually about “running a ski resort” (he has recently taken up skiing and loves it!), but quickly dismissed that as an “idle fantasy”…and returned to the more measured state…of “feeling lost.”

No motivation. No direction. A sense of having been ripped off track by huge winds of change…and sucked up into a dark fog…with no light at the end of the tunnel. In other words: NO MOJO!

We’ve all been there. Shift happens. Especially somewhere along the trajectory called, “mid-life” (30-40-50 and up…), the rug gets pulled out from under us–a lay-off, an illness, a divorce–and suddenly the “story” we’ve been telling ourselves about WHO WE ARE no longer rings true. SO…how do we re-claim our MOJO?

As my “unstoppable” guest on my radio show, Life Shifting with Dr J, Frankie Picasso, stated: “We need to reconnect to our deepest dreams…not dismiss them but re-discover over how they fuel our MOJO for living full-out.” You got it Frankie, Bravo!

My “lost” client, above, actually dreamed about being a doctor when she was a child…but got de-railed on that path by parents and life events. Today, she is a mid-lifer who would dismiss the possibility of med school as far-fetched and impractical. Maybe. BUT what about the QUALITIES of being a doctor that her childhood fantasy was attempting to live through her? There are myriad ways to “doctor” the world; she only needs to re-connect, at a deep level, with the dream…and re-configure it to her current life story.

Likewise, my client who fantasizes about running a ski resort: why is this dream so quickly dismissed? He’s a former venture capital consultant; he knows a lot about how to raise money, how to run a business. But perhaps “running a ski resort” IS too far fetched, impractical. No matter. In the dream are the seeds of possibility. By exploring his fantasy–and seeing what’s POSSIBLE instead of what’s WRONG…the MOJO — the motivation, the enthusiasm the creativity can be tapped…and soon he’ll find his way out of the FOG.

mojo in motion!

It turns out that he loves to be in nature, to get his hands dirty…to make THINGS (maybe skis?). Whoa…is it out of the question that one day he just might discard the suit and tie, roll up his sleeves and glide off to manage a ski manufacturing business in Vermont? Sounds like a dream worth exploring, no?

I heartily encourage you to listen in to my conversation with executive coach, radio host, Frankie Picasso, author of “Midlife Mojo” –a guide to re-inventing yourself AT ANY AGE! Her story of becoming a certified master life coach after surviving a devastating motor cycle accident and having to RE-LEARN, literally, how to walk…is inspiring and wise. She never gave up, and today she has a successful coaching business, is a sought-after speaker/teacher…and works on major, multi-million dollar non-profit projects–supplying portable homes to the homeless all over North America! Way to go Frankie!

So…if you are feeling a bit LOST these days…listen in here to my talk with Frankie, and remember: Don’t discount your dreams!

the nugget of GOLD in an endless sea

Dream On!

Dr J

Releasing that S.O.B. called J.O.B.

A recent article in the NY Times called attention to a huge paradigm SHIFT that I’ve been noticing for a few years now: The “JOB” as we know it is on its way out! Like a wave that is building…getting ready to make land fall and wash away a cultural icon, the linear, full-time, boxed in life mode called “having a JOB” seems to be dying out. The article pointed out how millions of people coming out of the recession are making a conscious decision NOT to look for a job — but to craft a life built around consulting assignments, part-time work, and freelancing gigs. Welcome to the brave post-JOB world, where we are ALL called to be entrepreneurs and to create businesses, to craft work/life-styles that mine the talents, visions and passions that make us unique…and to bring those forth. In a word, welcome to the “portfolio” world!

Of course, we all know how painful it can be to lose one’s job, to be laid off, or re-engineered out of a corporate gig that we thought was a “secure” position. Losing a job can wreak havoc on our finances, our families, and our sense of security, but sometimes equally important is what it does to our sense of identity, raising the inevitable question: Without this JOB, who am I?

It may sound rather fantastical or unrealistic to speak this way, yet we are so quick to forget that the “full-time” job, and picture we have of work life made up of 60 hour weeks with a couple of weeks break in the summer or at holiday time if we are lucky, is relatively new on the cultural scene. The work world that we consider “normal” actually grew out of the Industrial Revolution–a time when factories arose to replace farms and people became cogs in the new machine of productivity. The “job” –as an arduous, exhausting, all-consuming, clamor up the rungs of a corporate ladder or scramble to get off the factory floor–is not etched in our DNA!

That said, writing as one who has felt the sting of unemployment myself over the years, I don’t want to be cavalier about this transition. It is a big SHIFT in our culture…and in our lives. BUT, and this is a big BUT, there is a true silver lining here, if we choose to see it that way. By letting go of the cultural fantasy that life is a straight line trip up the job/career ladder to nirvana (or golfing by the sea shore), we can reframe the change and see through to an opportunity to reinvent our relationship with WORK. We can begin to create new ways of being in the world that not only pay the bills, but nurture and nourish our creative spirits…and keep our soul’s alive.

So, if you’ve recently lost your job or are just wondering if it is time to step off the corporate ladder and try to fly solo or create a business, non-profit, or other way of working that might better aligned with your soul’s desire, here’s what I consider to be the 3 key steps for making the SHIFT (oh, and read my new book SHIFT too…where you’ll find a whole host of tools and practices to support your transformation:

Your Workbook for Life-Shifting!

1. Release: Letting go–or “being let go” (if the rug-pulling comes from outside your control, as is often the case) can be emotionally devastating to our egos. Grieving the loss, of a job, of an identity, of who we thought we were…takes time. Don’t criticize yourself for feeling a sense of loss, or sadness, just let the feelings come up and flow through you. Exercise, eat well, sleep a lot, if necessary, and be sure to share your true feelings with a loving companion, therapist or coach. Grieving is part of the process of letting go–it doesn’t take forever but it does need to be honored.

Try not to be freaked out by the symptoms of change. Anxiety, stress, worry, lethargy, boredom, mild depression are all naturally occurring symptoms when we are feeling stuck, in a RUT, or experience a rupture in our lives. They, and you, are NORMAL! Our protective egos will try desperately to “rev us up” (anxiety) or shut us down (boredom/depression), as a way to protect us from CHANGE.

Vent...breathe...vent some more...breathe...and...release!


We are bombarded with advertisements and self-help books all wanting to help us alleviate the symptoms and get back on that treadmill. It is ok to want to feel better–but don’t miss the forest by getting caught up in the trees. Sometimes symptoms of FEAR (which most of these are!) are a gift in disguise, calling us forth to do the inner work of re-inventing our relationships, our careers, jettisoning our small view of ourselves as “nine-to-five-ers” or just good enough to hold on to that S.O.B. of a job.

2. Reframe: Step back, take a deep breath, and look for the gift, the opportunity, and the possibilities that are all around you, even in the wake of a major job loss. Do a lot of journaling–about your passions, your gifts, your dreams. Put together a list of what you KNOW YOU ARE GOOD AT…and ask everyone you trust and love what gifts they think you bring to the world. Letting go of the victim energy and going inside ourselves to re-connect with the “through-line” of our passions, our talents and our capabilities is the crucial transitional shift required to begin again.

Embrace your ever-present inner beginner!


3. Re-invent: Create a vision–not a specific goal, but a picture/fantasy–of how you’d like to be living and what work you see yourself doing a year from now…and five years from now. Write a mission statement and create a “vision board”–a collage–that operates as a billboard for the new brand you are crafting in the world. As Tom Peters would say: the advert for YOU, INC.

Then start reaching out to people and offering to help, to serve and provide your talents/capabilities to the world. Don’t “network” in the outmoded ways (collecting business cards: NOT!), but connect with like-minded people, build relationships with key people who you admire, who are doing work in the world that is aligned with your passions and your new ways of seeing yourself. Remember: one deep, abiding relationship is all it takes to link you to the next great adventure in the work of your life. Networking is not about quantity…but quality!

the cirle of giving...always gives back!


Create a whole surfeit of resumes, websites, and FB pages that proclaim your gifts…and, finally, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to GIVE AWAY your time, your energy and your efforts to those who need your help. Giving of yourself, in the areas aligned with your passions/talents is the surest way to have the universe return the favor–in the guise of paid gigs, consulting/p-t work…and very likely, (God forbid) that old stand-by, another J.O.B.

We live in a time of great upheaval–where SHIFTS have become the norm…and the full-time j.o.b. seems to be disappearing. But, deep down, I believe this is all good news: a new day is also dawning (a key theme in my new book: ENDINGS always segue into BEGINNINGS!) when the idea of a “job” is being replaced with something new, something better, something more connected to who we are as humans: the integration of work, passion and play. Can you imagine a day when our adult lives are no longer bounded by “work days” and “vacation days?” A time when we love our work so much that we don’t “need” a vacation from it?

Step up to your growing edge...take the leap...and soar!

Or am I just crazy? What do you think?

Cheers,

Dr J

Sun may set on your job...but rise to the work of your life!

Death is Life

“Endings…beginnings. Sometimes it feels like there is very little difference between the two. Both are hard. Both occur seemingly at random. Both are unpredictable. Life is like that.” Anonymous

Welcome back blog readers! I’ve missed you! It has been a while! My apologies for dropping off the blogging radar screen these past few months. I haven’t gone far from the writing scene actually…but been consumed with completing my soon-to-be-released book, Shift: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear, which will–hurrah!–be in bookstores in early April (you can pre-order it NOW on Amazon!)

Coming Soon...

And so…as I return to the blogosphere today, ushering in the new decade and with a new book about to hit the shelves, I’m deeply aware of the cyclical nature of life–filled with endings, deaths of a sort–and new beginnings. On some fundamental level, this natural, but all-too-often denied cycle of life is at the core of what my book, Shift, is all about.

Over the past couple of decades, we Americans (and maybe Westerners in general) seem to have lost touch with the reality that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, in life moves in cycles–relationships, careers, economies, business. We have slipped into a “growth” trance, falsely believing that real estate prices always go up, credit to buy “more” is always available, that “saving for a rainy day” is unnecessary because rainy days can be avoided with Prozac.

As we emerge from this difficult time, I hope those of us in the self-help world will also sober up a bit…get off the
“instant happiness” and “five steps to bliss” trains…and re-dedicate ourselves to supporting our readers through the very real twists and turns that make life meaningful…and an on-going mystery.

Life can be tough, challenging, and frightening…but also inspirational and filled with deep meaning. But we have to be willing to face the music and accept the truth: all parties end. After all, we humans are just tiny, yet miraculous little containers of water and dust floating on a huge fire/dirt/water ball in space…What do we REALLY know of the “grand design?”

Our Tiny Home

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a short, but moving candlelight vigil service in honor of a dear friend and neighbor who recently passed away. Carol was only in her early fifties, a vibrant, passionate, and warm human being–and the star real estate agent in my apartment building. As we neighbors compared notes, we came to realize that a huge percentage of us had purchased our coops in the building (in NYC we have COOPs not just condos!) because of Carol’s heart-warming enthusiasm for our building and neighborhood, along with her impeccable integrity. We all wanted to have HER as a neighbor.

Now, sadly, she has left us–gone way too soon.

Saying an emotional good-bye to my dear friend, and being ever-present to the recent devastation and loss in Haiti, I am deeply aware of how unpredictable life can be. Perhaps just to maintain some semblance of equilibrium, and to be able to get out of bed in the morning with a modicum of optimism, we Americans tend to dismiss, deny, and generally ignore (or medicate against) the cyclical nature of life.

Sunrise or Sunset? Maybe both?

But…DR J, you might ask, why focus on the negative? Why not just read the latest tome on how to “change your mind and change your life” (not!), pull out that Visa card, take your Abilify…and get on the “happiness train?”

Well, I’m not fundamentally against happiness! But, I would say that when we deny the reality that EVERYTHING in life is transient, everything moves in cycles–everything ends–we lose touch with the depth, the meaning, and the possibility that life’s downturns provide. We miss the spaces for learning, the opportunities for being moved, the moments of deep connection, and most fundamentally, those mysterious openings when something new is being born in us in the wake of an ending. Newborns, of the human or theoretical ilk, require SPACE to grow and flower. Empty space. Gaps in endless productivity. Breaks from shopping. Hibernation. Quiet moments of contemplation and solitude. All of the above…

I’m excited about my new book. It is a different kind of self-help book…one that I hope will truly HELP people instead of filling their heads with false fantasies about the so-called “Secret” ways to attract cars, mansions and eternal riches into their lives. Not!

In Shift, I do lay out a “prescription” of sorts, for how to deal with life’s upheavals and cycles in a meaningful, enriching, and energizing way. After creating what I call the “Life-Shifting” program for self-renewal, and seeing it work, in real time, with hundreds of clients from all walks of life, I wanted to share my findings–and offer a “road map” through the dark woods of change–into the light of new beginnings.

In the book, I also share my own personal journey through the vicissitudes of change (not without a bit of drama!) and share some truly amazing stories of transformation that I’ve had the privilege of witnessing firsthand. You really can “re-invent” yourself — at any age, in the face of any difficulty. I’ve seen it.

So…In honor of the “new conversation” that I hope to kick off in the coming months, I’ll shortly be bringing this blog to a timely end…and gearing up to launch a new website and blog at http://www.Jeffreyhull.com.

Stay tuned for the kick-off date. I will be back soon with announcements about timing and exciting events where you can join me in person — and learn more about how you can “make the shift” and transform your life into a meaningful, soulful, and yes, even joyful journey.

Many Paths, Many Possibilities

In the meantime, here are a few of the questions for you to ponder:

How do you weather downturns in the economy? Or in your Life?

Do you reach for the pharma fix or instead step back, reflect, breathe…become aware of your fears… and recognize that “this too will pass”…that endings and down moments are, well, just NORMAL!?

Have you taken time during this economic tsunami to reflect on what really matters, to re-evaluate your priorities?

Are you “making the shift” to live out your dreams..yet staying grounded in the “real” world?

I’d love to hear from you!

Namaste,

Dr J

The Paradox of Stress

The timing of the universe is always impeccable. Yesterday, I arrived at the chapter in Shift!, my book project, on stress, and in anticipation of sharing what might be some controversial thoughts on the subject, I started to feel anxious, worried, and you guessed it: stressed out! How perfect. It always helps to be intimate with one’s subject matter.

a word we know all too well

a word we know all too well

I’m no stranger to stress. I don’t, in fact, know anyone who is not closely acquainted with the painful, intense feelings of discomfort that we associate with the symptoms: pressure, usually in the head and the neck; muscle constriction in the chest making our breaths tighter, shallow; heaviness, worry, confused thinking–a sense of being overwhelmed. We’ve all been there. There are a thousand different variations of how stress shows up to disrupt our mental, emotional and physical equilibrium.

What was stressing me out, as I thought about what I wanted to write about this ubiquitous form of suffering that seems to inordinately plague our culture, is what a paradox stress is. My current feelings of stress notwithstanding, I’ve got to say it: stress is good. We need stress. What?

Let me try to explain my point with an illustration. Whenever I feel particularly stressed, stuck, or overwhelmed, I like to take a long bike ride or go for a run. Aerobic exercise, as we all know, is one the best ways to de-stress. Research has shown that physical exercise releases endorphins into the physical system that appear to counter the negative build-up of stress hormones like cortisol.

Near my home in the Hudson Valley, there is a long, winding country road that is perfect for biking. It is curvy and generally free of automobiles, with lots of steep inclines and long dips for catching my breath. At the outset of each ride, I always face an immediate fork in the road, literally,—and a choice. On the left, the ride is mostly straight, flat and downhill. On the right, the ride is more episodic, with steep hills, sharp curves, and long drops.

De-stressor Deluxe

De-stressor Deluxe

You would think that if my goal is to reduce stress, get in the flow, and feel free, I’d go left. But I never do. The fact is, I like the hills. I need them. Frankly, the ride to the left is too easy, too flat, almost tediously static. In a word, it’s boring.

The paradox of stress reduction is this: When I think about the most stress-relieving part of a bike ride, it is not those occasional downhill glides with the breeze flowing through my hair and no need to pedal or brake, but rather when I “hit the hill.” In those moments when I feel the tension heat up in my leg muscles, when I gaze upward and feel a rush of adrenaline in the face of the incline ahead, when I downshift (to lighten the stress!) and become excruciatingly present to the on-coming climb, those are the moments, when I feel the most focused, energized, and relaxed.

In my case, the stress created by shifting the focus out of my head and on to my body, on to the present moment and its uphill exertions, releases the stress in my mind/body: the worry, anxiety and, most of all, the FEAR that saps my energy and holds me stuck. Now I’m either a very odd duck, or it would appear that stress is not always the enemy that it is purported to be. In fact, it is the very stress—in this case, of physical exertion—that alleviates the real culprit: fear.

Unfortunately, stress has become one of those terms against which we carry a grudge. We are bombarded with ads for programs and workshops and CD’s all purporting to help us reduce stress, yet this may be one more example of where the symptom is NOT the dis-ease. The deeper truth is that we thrive on stress. Without it, we would whither away and die.

I’m reminded of two clients that I saw back to back recently, who for a period of time made me feel a bit like a ping-pong ball on the table of stress. Each of them came to me complaining of being “stressed-out.” On one side, I had Mary, whose life appeared to be over-flowing with stress and on the other, I had Hal, who complained about feeling stressed, but whose life, it appeared to me, seemed to be sorely lacking in it. He, like me on those bike straightaways, seemed bored.

Viewed from the outside looking in, Mary’s life is a picture post card of stress: She has a high-paying job as a director of human resources for a major bank, which requires of her endless hours of work including nights and weekends. She has three strenuously active children of various ages ranging from eight to fifteen, who have an endless litany of projects and programs and enough activities to make anyone’s head spin.

On top of all this stress-inducing drama, she has a house husband, who cooks, runs errands, and generally maintains the happy home, but who rarely participates in parenting or relating to Mary much beyond a shared video game and endless logistical emails.

Techno-intimacy?

Techno-intimacy?

And so…Mary comes to me each week complaining of being overwhelmed by stress—pressures at work, tension at home, endless to-do lists, and no time for herself. It is a common complaint for people who are trying to balance the endless demands of career and family life circa 2009.

At the other end of the stress spectrum, we have Hal. A sixty-three year old retired architect, Hal lives, simply and comfortably, on a small pension that he built up over his thirty-year career. Having never married or had children, his life appears, again from the outside looking in, as a picture perfect postcard of freedom. Hal is able to do what he wants when he wants. He has close friends, and although he sometimes desires a closer companion in his life and misses the intimacy of a romantic relationship, he didn’t come to me pining away for a girlfriend. His complaint, when he did arrive on my doorstep, was that he was stressed about his own lack of “to-do” list, which was showing up as a general malaise, a lack of enthusiasm and passion for life.

At the outset, I couldn’t help but think, as these two stressed-out clients passed each other in the hallway, that if they could just take each others place for a few months, or maybe a few years, all would be well. Mary could sure use a little more freedom, and Hall could benefit from a bit more activity. They appear, at least initially, as opposites, to be sure.

But that’s the problem with stress: if you don’t dive below the surface symptom, you can all too easily mistake the forest for the trees. It turns out that Hal and Mary are not really opposites at all, but surprisingly similar, and that “stress” is not really the problem, for either of them.

Mary, when pressed to explore her story of woe, turns out to thrive on being busy: she is passionate about her job, loves taking care of her kids and doesn’t, deep down, really mind running around supporting their high energy lives. What she really feels is fear: fear that she is losing connection with her husband; fear that he and she are becoming increasingly isolated from each other; fear that she might end up alone.

Hal, likewise, is actually quite content with many elements of his life. He thrives on his new found sense of freedom in retirement, and enjoys having the flexibility to putter about with multiple hobbies that he has put off for years. Stress is not his real complaint, loneliness is. He, like Mary, fears isolation, separation, and a lack of intimacy with a significant other.

Funny, rather than switch places with each other, I might do them both more good if I were to introduce them (although don’t worry, I won’t). They are, like many of us, caught up in the story called “stressed,” but at a deeper level, where the rubber of truth hits the road of the heart, their core issue is fear.

And so, the crux of the problem with stress, is that far too often it is NOT the problem. In some cases, a bit more stress may even be the solution. Both Mary and Hal, in facing their fears, actually needed to turn up the stress quotient: They both needed to move through their fear of isolation by “being more related”—taking on the added “stress” of engaging with potentially scary “others”–husbands and girlfriends!

Reaching beyond fear...to connection

Reaching beyond fear...to connection

At then end of the day, stress is a necessary component in building a building, a bridge or a life. As any structural engineer will tell you: stress is a key ingredient in the recipe for success. Without the right level of tension, achieved through a balance of weight, distance and pressure bearing down on the different elements of the structure, the bridge will fall.

We humans, as delicate systems comprised of interrelated emotional, physical and mental “elements” are in many ways, no different. The difference is that unlike a suspension bridge, whose foundation, set in concrete, remains fixed (although in truth it too is always moving, in sync with the movement of the earth), the human system is fluid, movable, and in a constantly dynamic relationship with its environment. The loop of tension that holds up a bridge is closed; ours is open-ended. We too, require stress to stay afloat, but too often we mistake stress for its insidious sister: fear.

The beauty of stress

The beauty of stress


Our challenge is not to banish stress from the system, but to dive below the symptom and uncover, share and release our fear. Only then may we begin to navigate that delicate sense of balance that keeps us upright and moving forward, flexible and adapting to the winds of change.

Dr J

The Trouble with Happiness: Part Three–Money, Meaning and the Madness of “More”

Post the onslaught of Michael Jackson media madness, I want to get back to the topic, which was very much on my mind last week…and hasn’t left: happiness.

Today’s New York Times kicks off with another recession winner: California is about to “default.” I’m not sure exactly what this means, although it is safe to say that it is seriously gloomy news, as the economic hurricane of 2008-2009 continues to plow down industries–real estate, banking, insurance, automobiles (all of which are heavily concentrated in California) like match sticks in a blaze. I guess one could surmise that, with its credit rating downgraded, and its deficit ballooning, the entire state is about to be “foreclosed”. storm

Of course, the situation is no laughing matter, and we’re not exactly sitting pretty here in my home state of New York. The pain has managed to spread, far and wide, touching just about everyone, in the pocket book–and head, and heart.

When I reflect on what’s happening with the economy on a psychological/cultural level, somehow I always end up harping once again on our addiction to material, consumable, instant, microwave-safe, happiness…and all the trouble it gets us into. It just seems to me that the deeper issue we face, as a nation and a culture, is a crisis of identity: We’ve lost sight of who we are, and what REALLY matters.

Perhaps the trouble I have with the Americanized version of “happiness,” isn’t so much with our desire to be “happy” but with the path we’ve chosen to get there: we’ve just drunk way too deeply on the Kool-Aid of consumption. Clamoring always for the almighty “more,” is a form of madness—a malaise of meaning that is more symptomatic of clinical manic depression than of the happiness it is designed to create. Herewith is the real question: Why do we feel so empty that we cram ourselves endlessly with stuff?

Our vehicle of choice?

Our vehicle of choice?

Isn’t enough, well, enough? After all, sated is state of being, not having.

I recently watched a documentary on the housing crisis, in which a family of four from Mexico had moved to Southern California in pursuit of the American Dream. After struggling mightily for a number of years, the husband had achieved a modicum of success: legal status, a white collar job in office tower, a comfortable apartment in which each of his kids had their own bedroom–and the requisite computers, televisions, Ipods, even an SUV. But when the opportunity came up for him to get a low interest loan on a huge house, a big lawn and a long commute, he grabbed at the chance.

Then, when he lost his job in the downturn, this hard-working immigrant was forced to give up his home, declare bankruptcy and in effect, start back at the beginning. I couldn’t help but wonder, having come so far from the hardscrabble poverty he had grown up in south-of-the-border, why would he risk everything just for MORE house?

More happiness? Really?

Was it inevitable that we’d get so far off track? I mean, if you think about it, we’ve been wise to the shadow of greed, and the addiction to material wealth, for a long, long time. Erich Fromm, that psychological provocateur, warned us rather poignantly in his invaluable tome, “The Sane Society” way back in 1955:

“Originally, the idea of consuming more was meant to give man a happier, more satisfied life. Consumption was a means to an end—that of happiness. It now has become an aim in itself. Man has become alienated from the work he does, the things and pleasures he consumes, and from the social forces which under gird our society.”

So where do we go from here? As Carl Jung might say, the shadow side of our addiction to happiness—at least in material form—has reared its ugly head in the form of a deep recession (or collective depression?). But Jung was also an optimist, and noted that breakdown always precedes breakthrough. As he might put it, with the ego—that “material me”—comatose and drunk on debt, might the soul come alive?

I recently read an article in the NY Times about the only city in America that might just toss off the recession-syndrome rather lightly, having been through more than its fair share of depressions, tropical and economic. Yet, New Orleans just keeps on being happy:

In one nationwide Gallup survey, New Orleanians in number far greater than other Americans reported themselves “extremely satisfied” with their lives, despite some of the worst violence, poverty, and mismanagement in the country. While the rest of us Americans scurry about with a Blackberry in one hand and a to-go cup of coffee in the other in a feverish attempt to pack more achievement into every minute, it’s the New Orleans way to build one’s day around friends, family, music, cooking, processions and art.” Dan Baum for the NY Times, June 18, 2009

What might we learn from a city that knows a thing or two about being under water?

There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting “more,” but it is the quality—not the quantity—of the more that really matters. Perhaps, shaken out of our fairy-tale slumber turned nightmare (we are like the “Three Little Bears” of the brothers Grimm—overfed, undernourished), we might choose to live, once again, more like our Cajun brothers and sisters,

soul food

soul food

with more relatedness, more compassion, more depth, more meaning…more soul!

Bon beignets!

Dr J

Demons, Dragons and the Daimon (part one)


“There are times when we may fool ourselves. There are times when we can fool others. But we can never fool our body. It is the most sensitive barometer of our inner world.
” –Sherrill Sellman

The demons are back!

For the past few months, I have been waking up in the morning with what can only be described as “a jaw ache.” I get out of bed, slipper-slide my way to the coffee maker, and notice that my mouth feels like it has been nailed shut. Fortunately, the sense of “lock-down” persists for only a few minutes. When I sit breathing deeply in meditation, or take a few swigs of java–my jaw loosens and the pain subsides.

I didn’t think much of it until I heard on an NPR talk show that dentists recently reported a 50 percent jump in cracked and broken teeth in the past six months. Of course, as trained scientists, they just note the data and try to avoid speculating on why this might be happening…but I’ll venture a guess: anxiety, worry, stress…maybe FEAR?! (not that we are living through a fearful time…)

Does once every twenty years make a pattern? Not sure, but I can tell you that in 1989 when I first moved to New York City, I remember going to the dentist for the first time (on the 90th floor of the Empire State Building, whoa!) and he asked me if I “grind my teeth?” I had no idea what he was talking about, except to note that ever since arriving in NYC, I had been waking up in the morning with a jaw ache…rather like the one I currently have. He told me that I needed to be careful about this–that if it persisted I could crack/split a tooth during the night, or wear down the enamel, and the subsequent treatment could be quite extensive, expensive, and painful. Yikes.

Of course, the great irony was that he had a thoroughly unscientific, but rather profound explanation for my teeth-grinding: anxiety. He noted that many new patients, who come to NYC from other places, often have a great deal of anxiety in their transitional months. He was right, of course. I was excited, but also was anxious about moving to New York: I was worried about my finances living in such an expensive city; I was worried about being lonely in a city of 8 million; I was worried about starting my new job; I was overwhelmed by all the amazing things to do in the city…that cost money. You get the idea.

The good news, is that within a few months–by the time of my next visit–the pain had subsided and I guess I had became a relaxed, just normally stressed out New Yorker…with a loose jaw. Teeth intact.

Twenty years on..it appears that the teeth-grinding night demons are back. And it seems, according to NPR and the national dentists association, that I’m not the only one whose dream state is being attacked by little guys taking jack-hammers to my teeth while I snooze.

So what is going on here? Well, to my mind, what I’m going to call the “anxiety demons” represent bad news…and good news.

Unpleasant little devils!

Unpleasant little devils!

The bad news is that we are living in a particularly stressful time — and the symptoms of anxiety, stress, and worry are ubiquitous. The good news is that the demons are prescient, potent and insightful: we just need to listen to their message, and almost always, they signal CHANGE is afoot. Our job, if we have the awareness to hear the message, is to not RESIST…but, as best as possible, to go with the flow. Change, even disruptive upheaval…usually happens for our own good (that’s where the daimon comes in, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

Back to the den of demons. Have you or anyone else you know experienced an unusual number of physical ailments lately? I’ve notice that a large number of my friends–and clients–have recently been taken down by a plethora of them: back pain, hepatitis, insomnia, stomach flu, sinusitis, skin rashes, Lyme disease.

One friend, who is considering a major career move that will take him across the country and potentially away from his spouse, took to bed with what he thought was the flu. Five weeks and many shed pounds later, he realized that the tenacious bug was a big wake-up call: he needed to rest, reflect, and really think through his decision. He was deeply anxious and wrought with guilt over the desired change.

A client who I’ve recently taken on is “thinking big” for the first time in years, pondering life shifts that may take him and his wife into a new business venture, away from their home state, and perhaps out of his twenty year career in the hotel industry. In the midst of this “life-shift,” he has committed to tackle the one major demon that has held him back for years: his weight. Yet, in the first few weeks of our work together, as he gears up to face the possibility of major change–and a new regimen of diet and exercise–he has actually gained five pounds. Oops, wrong direction.

What’s going on here? Why do the demons attack just when we’re most vulnerable?

Well, my take is this: the demons are actually trying to protect us, to keep us from risking too much, upsetting the apple cart of our lives…and disturbing the peace. They are what I call the “front line” defense soldiers, attacking from the flanks–in the stomach, the mouth, the head, and the back (oh, could I tell you stories about clients with back pain!).

They are actually fairly benign in most cases–representing a temporary onslaught–but their goal is simple: to warn you about the dragon, that big time protector of what we might call, in Kafka-esque terms: the Keeper of the Castle “Status Quo.”

Demons, simply put, are symptoms. Symptoms, as Freud pointed out over a hundred years ago, are often the street lamps on the road to repressed fears, forbidden desire, and unhealed trauma. They can be a wake-up call that it is time to face down the dragon of fear…and move forward towards a new landscape. The mistake we often make, however–and that our sound-bite culture reinforces–is to ignore the deeper roar of the dragon, and tend the symptom alone. “Pop the pill,” “sleep it off,” “cut it out” (metaphorically AND quite often, literally), and “get back to work.” These are our mantras. And what of change, growth, re-birth, transformation? Ah, no thanks, please pass the NyQuil.

So, in most situations, we stay focused on the demons, try to alleviate the symptoms, and avoid coming face-to-face with the dragon we most want to avoid: the dragon of fear.

the real culprit...

the real culprit...

Why? Well, partly because the meaning behind the demon of illness can be elusive: sometimes a cold is just a cold. BUT, more often, I think, especially when we sense (if we take the time to reflect) that our symptoms may well be related to stress/anxiety, is this: fear is a formidable foe.

Slaying the dragon is no easy task. It is often easier to just pick off the demons, one by one, rather than face the truth of our deeper pain, or hear in to the music of our deepest desire. Yet, when we are finally anxious enough, fed up enough, sick enough, or just downright MAD (witness the recent election) enough, we may just rise to the occasion…and stand up to our fears, shouting, to the world, to ourselves, “yes we can~!”

The key to this shift—and you can bet we are in the midst of a major one right now—is awareness; becoming aware that the underlying issue is FEAR; that the headaches, body aches, diet dramas, and other afflictions, are not [always] random, accidental or genetic (as pharma execs and some psychiatrists would have us believe) but very simply the body’s own language, signaling us of FEAR…and CHANGE.

Here’s the rub: You can’t slay a dragon if you refuse to acknowledge that it exists (look what it took for us to finally see the insanity of the Wall Street fueled housing debacle). Only by becoming aware that we are AFRAID…or that we are UNHAPPY, literally “sick and tired” of the status quo, only then may we step beyond the demons…and enter the dragon’s lair.

At this point, you may rightfully be asking, “Ok, I’ve had a demon here or there, but if I can “take two aspirin and feel better in the morning,” why would I want to face down my deepest fears?” Good question. Yet, it is exactly that kind of thinking that gets us into these extreme messes — witness the mortgage crisis–in the first place.

By side-stepping the guardian of the castle, and avoiding our irrational terror of change, we are prevented from accessing the one thing that brings joy, passion and the energy of possibility into our lives: the daimon of our deepest desire. We all know what the dragons of folk tales really guard in those foreboding medieval castles: buried treasure!

buried in each and every one of us...

buried in each and every one of us...

Think about it. What are we really most afraid of? That we might have to shift our life focus from “money” to “meaning?” That there really could be joy in having less “stuff” and more time? That the breakdown in the “house of cards” called free market capitalism might cause us to re-evaluate what really matters?

It does seem that just as we get comfy in our strata-loungers, something equally demonic, but in a good way–shows up to shake us up, forcing us to change and grow. It is a mystery par excellence: this daimon of passion and longing, the creative impulse to build new castles and try out new economic systems, the drive towards a better world–the instinct to elect better leaders. Where does this come from?

Carl Jung considered the daimon the key to individuation: a daemonic pull towards growth and transformation that ultimately pushes aside our complacent, self-absorbed ego-self to reveal the soul, or Self with a capital “S”. Thomas Moore, in his new book “A Life at Work,” likens the daimon to our “soul’s desire”–a calling from deep within the unconscious to create meaning, connection, and depth in our lives, and in the world. In short, our life’s work:

A daimon is an unnamed urge that pushes you in a certain direction. it is the force behind the passion and tenacity of your yearning. The Romans believed that a child is born with his daimon, or in their language, his genius. It is a fertile idea; that the deep passion and drivenness that stays with us all our lives is there from the beginning. The daimon is a primal, creative urge. The daimonic voice is deep-seated and connected to your personality and destiny. [The challenge] (sic) is to learn to trust it, without being naive or giving up your basic skepticism.

To my mind, the daimon represents the final frontier—below the demon, beyond the dragon. It is that deep inner voice that calls forth our deepest aspirations as humans: to live out our dreams, to make the world a better place for our children, to satisfy our hunger for peace, brotherhood, and community. We all know those feelings, even the most cynical among us were deeply moved by the recent inauguration of President Obama. SO, where does that voice—the one that calls forth the immeasurable creative potential of humanity—reside?

It’s in there, deep in our souls, but it can be hard to hear behind the din of demons and dragons who would hold us hostage to anxiety, stress, worry, guilt..and loudest of all: our fear. In my next blog, I’m going to explore further how we might “slay the dragon.” But for now (funny, I can feel my jaw tighten in anticipation…it’s almost as if my own demons are just lying in wait, whispering, “leave us be…don’t rock the boat…just take that Xanax the Doctor prescribed…no need to get feisty on us!”), I’ll leave you with this question:

What demons have been showing up in your life lately? Are you ignoring them? Fighting them? Perhaps…listening in for the message they carry?

Behind the fortress of fear...is there a doorway to possibility?

Behind the fortress of fear...is there a doorway to possibility?

What dragon of fear or harbinger of change might they be pointing to? Are you listening? Please let me know. We’re all on this battlefield together…

Of course, the recipe for success, even in this trying time, is simple (but not easy!):

1. De-code your demons

2. Slay the dragon…and

3. Follow your daimon.

Onward, HO!

Dr J